Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Theme Story - Directions

Prompt this week was directions from point A to point B. I went a little weird.

First, start your water boiling. You want to get a nice, rolling boil going, so keep those flames hot. Once you've got the boil going, you'll start your journey by tossing in a handful of dirt. Doesn't matter where it comes from, but don't skimp on that handful. Add three oak leaves, with the veins removed, and two acorns. Let the mixture stew for a moment, then put on your protective clothing. Add a fourth-generation honeybee queen, being careful to keep the drones defending her from touching the boil. Using a stick from a sapling of less than two years, stir the mixture three times counter-clockwise. Then, add the saltpeter and step back – you should see a healthy boom.

If the pot survives the explosion. Instantly remove it from heat and let the mixture congeal. Scoop out three spoonfuls onto three separate cheesecloths, and place them at the corners of an equilateral triangle the size of the portal you wish to make. Make sure that the triangle points northwards – a south-pointing triangle is not something you want to experience. Step into the triangle formed by the three cheesecloths and do the hokey pokey but do NOT turn yourself around. Following this, hold your breath for three seconds and jump. If you have completed the recipe correctly, you should break through the ground into Flavortown. If not, you will land solidly on the ground and will lose your access for three years.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Theme Story - He turned the key in the lock...

He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. To his horror, he saw yet another of the damn rooms. Same pulsing green light emitting from the same pillars in each corner, same four doors pointing in each of the cardinal directions, same metal chair at the same table with – once again – nothing on it. Yet. He knew that would change soon enough, just as he knew that once he stepped forward the door would shut and lock behind him. He considered going back and trying the other doors, but after nearly fifty rooms he knew what he would find when he did so. Besides, it had only been four rooms since he had just picked a direction and went. He didn't know if he was making progress – hell, the way this place defied logic he could very well be moving in a circle repeatedly – but with no other options he decided to keep pressing onward.

He pulled out the chair and sat at the table, the screen inset into the surface once again coming to life. The same grid with the same colored dots greeted his angry gaze. He had to struggle to stop himself from tearing his hair out in frustration. He'd solved 47 of these puzzles so far. He found himself irrationally hoping that this one would be the last, or at the very least 50 would mark some kind of change in the scenario. A different room, a different puzzle, even a different light color in the glowing pillars would be preferable! Some indication that his actions were producing some effect somewhere. Anywhere.

He swiped his finger along the grid, connecting the colored dots without overlapping. This one was fairly simple, as were the others – the entire process took fifteen seconds. Upon completion, another key rose from the table. He placed the original key into his pocket with the rest of the growing collection, and palmed the new key. He rose from his chair and moved towards the door directly opposite the table - he'd taken to referring to this direction as North, but he had no real way to tell where he was even headed. He put his hand on the door handle, inserted the key, took a breath, closed his eyes, and turned the handle.

He waited a second to open his eyes, hoping to see anything different, but once again he was met with the same room. The 49th room, with the 49th puzzle, and the 49th key. He sighed heavily, and moved to the chair. He plopped down with a despair as deep as his frustration had been in the last room. Fifty, he told himself. Just make it to fifty and something will change. He idly solved the puzzle on the table and grabbed the proffered key that resulted. Moving once again in the same direction, he approached the North door and inserted the key. With another steadying breath he turned the key in the lock and opened the door of the fiftieth room.

No change. Same green glow, same table, same chair, same four doors. He stepped through the door and sat in the chair, regarding the puzzle before him with a surly look. He swiped his finger around the grid, connecting the dots together, retrieving the key from the tiny slot in the table. He stood and approached the fiftieth door. He placed the key in the lock and, after a brief pause, turned it and opened the door...

and blinked in the sudden light. Not green this time, but bright white emanating from every corner of the room. The table was round this time, the chair wooden, but the room was still surrounded by four doors in each of the cardinal directions. He crossed the threshold and a siren blared, causing him to jump out of his skin. He had no idea what it signified, but was oddly comforted by the fact that someone felt the need to signify something. A siren like that is placed for other people to hear, not for the sole occupant trapped in a maze. He approached the table and pulled out the chair. The surface lit up revealing the same grid. No, it was different this time – there was one more square in each direction, and one additional color to connect. He had apparently reached the next level. He leaned back, but oddly felt no anger or frustration. He was making progress at last. He solved the puzzle quickly and grabbed the key that emerged from the table, making his way to the North door once again. He inserted the key in the lock and turned the knob. Telling himself that if there is progress there might be an end, he pulled the door open and moved into the next white room. 

An Open Letter to Georgia Tech's Online Masters in Computer Science Program

NOTE - This situation has now changed. I leave this post here because I do not believe in shying away from my own words. I think that many of my points are still valid, the brash tone notwithstanding. Look up posts with label "Georgia Tech" for more information

To whom it may concern,

I just received my application decision, and I was turned down for admission to the online Masters in Computer Science program. I must say that I was surprised. From the FAQ on the OMSCS web site, I see the following requirements:

Preferred qualifications for admitted OMS CS students are an undergraduate degree in computer science or related field (typically mathematics, computer engineering or electrical engineering) from an accredited institution with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants who do not meet these criteria will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; significant professional or other work experience with supporting recommendations may qualify as an adequate substitute for the appropriate academic credentials, however work experience will not take the place of an undergraduate degree. Georgia Tech will not admit applicants into the OMS CS degree program without the minimum qualifications for success. The Georgia Tech minimum criteria used in determining each applicant's eligibility for consideration shall include:

  1. Evidence of award of a bachelor's degree or its equivalent (prior to matriculation) from a recognized institution, demonstrated academic excellence, and evidence of preparation in their chosen field sufficient to ensure successful graduate study; and
  2. For international applicants, satisfactory scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
In essence, the requirements applicable to me as a domestic applicant are: A bachelor's degree in computer science with a GPA of at least 3.0, demonstrated academic excellence, and preparation in the field sufficient to demonstrate successful graduate study. Let's cover each of these in turn:

A bachelor's degree in Computer Science - Achieved.
A GPA of at least 3.0 - Achieved
Demonstrated academic excellence - I have a master's degree from DePaul in computer graphics, which I completed with a 3.93 GPA while working full time. In other words, I graduated with distinction from a challenging program that I underwent while working 40 or more hours a week. I am pretty sure that demonstrates academic excellence. Not to mention that my undergraduate GPA was more than sufficient to earn me an invitation to Upsilon Pi Epsilon and would have given me the opportunity to graduate with honors, had I received the paperwork early enough.
Preparation in the field sufficient to demonstrate successful graduate study - Aside from 10 years experience as a software engineer, I have shown evidence of previous successful graduate study by successfully performing graduate studies. Setting aside my letters of recommendation, my success in my master's degree and my continuing efforts as adjunct faculty at various colleges should sufficiently demonstrate this requirement.

In short, I have met your base requirements, I have experience as a professional in computer science, and I have a demonstrated track record of academic excellence at the graduate level. So why, I ask, was my admission denied?

Let's look at your letter, which I assume was a form letter:

"Admission to the program is extremely competitive, and I am sorry to report that we are unable
to admit you"

This is the first thing that caught my eye. Here is a direct quote from the OMS CS website:

"Applicants who meet the minimum criteria will be conditionally admitted into the degree program and must pass their first two OMS CS foundational courses with a grade of B or better to be fully admitted."

One of these things is not like the other. You can't have an "Extremely competitive" admission, and then turn around and say you will conditionally admit all applicants who meet the minimum criteria. That is not how the English language works - accepting everyone who meets the minimum requirements precludes the words "Extremely competitive". Not to mention that the letter I received directly contradicted this statement (not the first time that your information conflicted during the admissions process, either). Moving on:

"While you may have some experience in computing, we do not believe that you are currently prepared for success in this program, which is extremely demanding in a broad range of Computer Science"

Some experience in "computing"? Like a graduate degree in "computing", and ten years of experience as a developer across a variety of industries? And you judged my ability in this area based on what - transcripts from a bachelor's degree? Did I not mention Big O notation, or list my favorite data structures? Perhaps it's the fact that I have been teaching students in this area for over two years - did that result from me not having sufficient computing experience, or not being prepared for success? I highly doubt your judgment on my "computing" experience when you have seen no samples of my work, and when you use terms like "computing" to describe the actual study of "computer science."

"We encourage you to take courses in Computer Science that may better prepare you for a future application of admission to this program."

How is it determined that I need to take more courses in Computer Science, anyway? Did someone test my knowledge when I wasn't paying attention? Did they see samples of my code that I wasn't aware of? What part of computer science do I need a refresher on? Should I just pick a class at random and go for it?

In short, one of two things is happening: I missed some secret requirement that I didn't meet, or my application was not sufficiently evaluated. I would like to request more information on my denial of admission, or more specific feedback (you've had three months to respond to people - a three months which you have repeatedly pushed back for questionable reasons - more than sufficient time to personalize the responses to less than 2,000 people (much less, given that this was a second round of admissions)) on how I can better improve. Were my grades too excellent in graduate school the first time around? Did I have too much employment experience?

Thanks for your time, and while I am extremely disappointed in your shortsightedness I do wish you the best of luck with the OMS CS program. I had hoped to be an advocate for this novel way of presenting the course, but after going through the application process I now have serious doubts about how it can succeed when handled as it has been.

Matt Billock